The Principles of Psychology - Vol. 1

By William James | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV.*
ASSOCIATION.

AFTER discrimination, association! Already in the last chapter I have had to invoke, in order to explain the improvement of certain discriminations by practice, the 'association' of the objects to be distinguished, with other more widely differing ones. It is obvious that the advance of our knowledge must consist of both operations; for objects at first appearing as wholes are analyzed into parts, and objects appearing separately are brought together and appear as new compound wholes to the mind. Analysis and synthesis are thus the incessantly alternating mental activities, a stroke of the one preparing the way for a stroke of the other, much as, in walking, a man's two legs are alternately brought into use, both being indispensable for any orderly advance.

The manner in which trains of imagery and consideration follow each other through our thinking, the restless flight of one idea before the next, the transitions our minds make between things wide as the poles asunder, transitions which at first sight startle us by their abruptness, but which, when scrutinized closely, often reveal intermediating links of perfect naturalness and propriety--all this magical, imponderable streaming has from time immemorial excited the admiration of all whose attention happened to be caught by its omnipresent mystery. And it has furthermore challenged the race of philosophers to banish something of the mystery by formulating the process in simpler terms. The problem which the philosophers have set themselves is that of ascertaining principles of connection between the thoughts which thus appear to sprout one out

____________________
*
The theory propounded in this chapter, and a good many pages of the text, were originally published in the Popular Science Monthly for March, 1880.

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